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What Does Rhytidectomy Mean?

Sometimes it seems that doctors have a language all their own, with the long, complicated names for different surgical procedures. While sometimes it’s easy to guess what the words mean (abdominoplasty has something to do with the abdomen), other times it can seem like words come completely out of left field. When it comes to words like “rhytidectomy,” it gets even weirder when you realize that the word doesn’t even describe the surgery (facelift).
In fact, doctors do have their own language… or two! Most medical terms come from ancient Greek or Latin. The word “rhytidectomy” is a combination of two different Greek words.
The first half of the word comes from the Greek rhytis, which means “wrinkle.” Since facelift surgery aims at removing wrinkles from the face, this isn’t too surprising. However, when you combine this with the other half of the word, it gets a little strange.
You’re probably run into the suffix -ectomy before. It’s in words like appendectomy, hysterectomy, mastectomy, and vasectomy. All of these words have one thing in common: they involve the surgical removal of something (appendix, uterus, breast, and sperm ducts, respectively).
This is because -ectomy comes from the ancient Greek word ektomia, which literally means “a cutting out of.”
As you can see, rhytidectomy literally translates to “the cutting out of wrinkles.” But wait a minute: that’s not what happens during facelift surgery. This procedure involves removing excess skin so that wrinkles and sagging skin disappear. During a facelift surgery, a cosmetic surgeon doesn’t cut out the wrinkles, but removes skin around the borders of the face.
It’s actually a good thing that cosmetic surgeons don’t literally “cut out wrinkles.” During facelift surgery, the incisions are placed in the natural creases of the face, so that scarring will be inconspicuous. Needless to say, scars in the place of wrinkles would be very conspicuous!

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